The most intelligent question I've ever known anyone to ask about sexually explicit comics comes from writer Alan Moore, who's spent his professional career leading the way for his peers. "Is there a way," Moore asked in 1993, "of doing pornography that is sexually arousing, is not offensive politically, aesthetically, or in all those other ways, that can speak to women as well as men, that can have characters, meaning, and a story the same way as ordinary literature?" The answer is yes, but proving it in a finished comic is another matter entirely, which is why most artists don't try and most readers don't seem to care. (Moore and artist Melinda Gebbie may have accomplished that difficult task in their epic porn comic, Lost Girls Hardcover Edition
; I plan on reading an affordable edition.)
The second volume of Tim Pilcher's history of erotic comics covers the mid 'seventies to the present, and the theme that emerges in this survey is that while depictions of hardcore sex have become commonplace, the average sex comic is as stupid and boring as the average porn video; only the fetishes have become increasingly fractured, and more extreme in their presentation.
Chapter one covers the USA from the deathblow that Stan Lee, with the backing of the Nixon administration, dealt to the Comics Code Authority, through the mid 'nineties, when competition from the internet made it increasingly difficult for erotic comics publishers to make a living. In those years, nothing was off limits, unless you made the mistake of drawing or selling porn comics in the Bible Belt, which necessitated the birth of the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund. Elsewhere, things were going so well that even mainstream publisher DC Comics got into the act with such pioneering Vertigo titles as ENIGMA and THE EXTREMIST.
Chapter two covers the rise of gay and lesbian comics, from Howard Cruse and Tom of Finland to Alison Bechdel. The next chapter celebrates European erotica, a class act in terms of its draftsmanship, at least until we get to Spain: for some reason, Spanish porn comics look amateurish next to their French, Italian, and Argentinian competition.
Chapter four is Pilcher's ambivalent look at Japanese hentai, which he seems to find disgusting and/or boring in equal measure. (Curiously, the yaoi [gay male] panels are better drawn than anything else reproduced in this chapter.) The book concludes with a brief look at erotica online, a field in which we are all experts.
The front dust jacket illustration, a typically gorgeous nude by Giovanna Casotto, is worth the price of the book by itself. Unfortunately, the image has been cropped for the UK edition.